U.S. Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack doesn’t have a crystal ball. He made as much clear Monday while meeting with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics physicians and administrators about the future of mental health.
But he’s not waiting for answers to the country’s bigger health care questions before acting on issues he believes are paramount not only to the hundreds of thousands of constituents in his 24-county Iowa district but to the state and nation as a whole.
Loebsack, whose mother dealt with mental health issues, has reintroduced two bills aimed at improving mental health care and at dissolving the stigma around seeking such care.
“Whatever legislation I might be able to get through, however I might be able to help on this issue,” he said. “If I do nothing else other than to help deal with the stigma issue … then I’ll have done something.”
During his “breaking the stigma” tour in Iowa City on Monday, Loebsack sought data and first-person accounts from UI Health Care providers specializing in both child and adult psychiatric services. They reported a wide range of effects from lacking resources, including long wait times, inadequate payer coverage for those who do get care, difficulty training and educating care providers, and the growing pool of people who need care but never receive it.
Jennifer Harbinson, director of health policy for UI Health Care, additionally said health and human services cuts during the state’s last Legislative session resulted in a three-year cumulative loss for UI Health Care of more than $21.3 million. Those cuts came in many forms but work together to hamstring an array of services — including those centered on mental health.
Loebsack told The Gazette after the meeting he wasn’t surprised by what he heard.
“It confirmed a lot of things that I’d been hearing in my district,” which, he said, compounds the “uncertainty in Washington, D.C. right now.”
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“I have a lot of concerns about the new administration and the direction they’re going in terms of really massive cutbacks potentially on basically human needs programs,” Loebsack said.
That makes his advocacy even more important as lawmakers scramble to agree on a way forward under a new president seeking to undo President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Loebsack, who toured the university’s new Children’s Hospital on Monday after meeting with administrators, said he hopes the American Health Care Act pitched as a Republican replacement for Obamacare won’t achieve the same support it recently received in the House.
“I think it’d be terrible for mental health provision and mental health services in the country,” he said.
While that debate plays out, Loebsack is advocating for the two bills he introduced that he believes do merit serious consideration.
The Children’s Access to Mental Health Services Act seeks enhanced “federal medical assistance percentage” to help grow existing programs “to make sure our children get the mental health care they need.”
“While child behavior health access programs are making real progress in expanding access to behavioral health services for children and adolescents everywhere, we must do more to incentivize providers to get involved,” according to a Loebsack news release.
The Behavioral Health Care Integration Act would improve access to mental health services by creating grants for merged practices that offer both mental health and primary care services in the same space.
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“For far too long, for far too many people, mental health issues have been left in the shadows,” Loebsack said. “If we want to really make a difference in the overall health and well-being of Iowans, we need to recognize that the brain is part of the body and should be treated as such. These two pieces of legislation will help those in need get the treatment and care they need.”